Are you all right?” An arm reaches out and grabs me firmly. I squint as an overhead light shines too bright in my face. A sense of dread washes over me; I have no idea why.
My body tenses at the touch. I try to pull away, but I can’t move the way I want. It feels like I’m fighting my way through mud, thick and heavy, weighing me down. The voice calls out again, I think it’s a woman’s. I turn my head to the side and force my eyes to open, blinking slowly. A face hovers over me, their features blurred.
“What?” I croak.
The voice that comes out of my mouth doesn’t sound like mine. The voice doesn’t respond. Something drapes over my shoulders, and a figure walks in front of me and drops to their knee. It is a woman. I can see her face now. I can see the color of her eyes, a deep, dark brown that begs me to find comfort in them, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. I try to focus on her face. She has thick brows and a crooked nose, broad and covered in freckles.
Focus. Focus, I try to tell myself before a high-pitched ringing tears through my eardrums.
“Are you okay?” Her voice is quiet, as if she’s trying not to break me with her words.
I want to nod. I can’t comprehend why she’s looking at me like this, where I am, why I’m wrapped in a rough cotton blanket, why I’m so cold. I scrutinize my surroundings as my head clears, and I try my hardest to remember.
How did I get on the ground?
Rows of shiny, plastic-wrapped snacks fill my line of sight, and a long fluorescent tube-lamp above me swings back and forth. I think I’m in a gas station.
I wipe my face with my arm and glance down. Is this my arm? Every part of me feels unfamiliar. I shake my head, trying to collect myself.
“I’m okay,” I slur, realizing that she’s staring down at me with that searching expression.
Squinting, I focus on the mass of blue and brass before me as she gets to her feet.
“Why are you here?” I ask her, trying to take another glance around the room.
I must have missed something. Something important.
She puts her hands under my arms, hauling me to my feet. She’s stronger than I expected. My knees falter as I attempt to straighten my body. I stop struggling as she gently shushes me and lowers me back to the ground. It’s cold.
Please don’t vomit on this nice lady.
Her voice is soft but firm. “What’s your name?”
I take a deep breath. It strikes me hard that I have to remember myself.
“Lake, my name is Lake.” I nod, happy that I can finally give her an answer.
“Okay, Lake, do you remember anything that happened? Anything at all?” Her body language shifts; something about her demeanor strikes me as odd, as if she’s trying to hide something.
Happened? What is she talking about? The last thing I remember is—What do I remember?
I bring my hand to my face. It slides subconsciously to my ear to silence the ringing. No good. There are flecks of red on the back of my hand, extending over the sleeve of my shirt.
Holy crap, is that blood? Is that my blood? Holy crap.
“I don’t—I don’t remember how I got here. Where am I?”
She sighs. I want to apologize to her. I know I probably sound like a crazy person, but I can hardly think straight.
“Okay, Lake, you’re in a gas station. There has been an incident. I’m going to need you to come with me, all right?”
That’s a funny request.
“Why? What’re you doing, kidnapping me or something?” I joke, but the somber look on her face tells me it fell flat. I can sense that nothing about this moment is silly, yet I can’t stop myself from wanting to laugh. I once heard that inappropriate humor is a common reaction to trauma.
Trauma? Do I feel traumatized?
“Can you do that?” she asks, her mouth set in a hard, straight line.
There’s something in her eyes that scares me. Something I can’t quite put my finger on. I nod. She grabs under my arm and helps me up, and I squeeze my eyes shut as the room starts to spin. I let her drag me back to my feet. We take two wobbly steps before I gain my footing and we move forward.
“I promise I wasn’t drinking. I’m not old enough for that,” I say halfheartedly. I don’t hear her make a sound.
She’s quick. One step after another, she pulls me. I stumble twice. I reach down and grab onto her shirt. For a second, I feel her pull away. She stops and lets me hold on.
“Sorry,” I whisper.
My foot catches something on the ground, and I stop myself from lurching forward.
“It’s fine,” she says, before I can speak.
She tugs me forward, desperate now, but I hesitate. Something about the way she’s so frantic to keep me moving gives me a weird feeling. I freeze and stand there for a second. Something about the sudden noiselessness of the room makes me shudder.
“We need to keep moving.” It sounds like an order.
Something doesn’t feel right. I open my eyes.
At first, all I see is a shoe, but that’s enough.
“No.” Because I know that shoe. “No.” I know that leg. I know the face. I know. “Please, no.”
I drop to the floor, my fingers landing on the leg. Instantly, I heave. The ringing in my ears fades as my body convulses from the vomiting. I wipe my mouth, my hands wildly try to touch every piece of them I can, as if I can fix this like I would a puzzle. Panic clouds my vision. I can’t see, I can’t breathe. Maybe it’s better that way. I don’t want to see what’s in front of me.
There is not a thing about this person I don’t know.
There is not a part of this face I haven’t seen before.
I grab their head between my hands, cradling it in my lap. I feel the thickness of blood-matted hair, but I don’t care. I pull them closer to me. Their head on my chest as I hyperventilate on this cold, stupid floor. There’s so much blood.